Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Confess That I Once Worked at Walmart


I belong to a Facebook group that is focused on the county where I grew up. Having left that area (for the second and last time) almost twenty years ago, I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on the current lack of job opportunities there. I don’t want to jump in on what is essentially a local debate about the pros and cons of building a new Walmart Supercenter in the largest city and closing the existing smaller store.

I confess that I worked part time at a Walmart store in that county for several years in the 1990s.

I was employed there while I (finally) finished the requirements for my bachelor’s degree. Working as a Walmart fabrics and crafts associate wasn’t my idea of a dream job, but employment opportunities were slim in the college town where I attended classes.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of online complaints about Walmart. Two of the major complaints that got my attention were 1) Walmart jobs pay so little that employees often must apply for public assistance in order to support themselves and their families, and 2) Walmart jobs are “soul killing.”

I agree that low paying, associate level big-box store jobs generally are not great jobs for the long run. However, I think those jobs can be good temporary jobs for students or retirement jobs for people who want or need to keep working after retiring. And retail jobs worked for me as “interim jobs” three times while I looked for a better job.

Apparently, I was one of the more fortunate Walmart associates. Unlike some employees, I didn’t need any sort of public assistance while working there. Nope, not even food stamps. I had the resources to pay for my education, personal expenses, and share of the household expenses without help from anyone else.

I didn’t find the job to be soul killing, probably because I knew I wouldn’t be working at Walmart for almost forever. At that time, my hobby was making handcrafted beaded jewelry, so I was working in the department that was the best fit for me. I also had a rudimentary knowledge of sewing, thanks to a few years in 4-H and six months of home economics in the ninth grade. Although I sometimes had to deal with annoying customers, most of the time I enjoyed helping people with their craft or sewing projects.

I did find the job boring at times, usually on a Monday evening when business was slow. During those times, I tried to sneak over to the bargain fabric tables and reorganize the way too high displays of what seemed like a half-zillion bolts of material. That chore was a never-ending battle and a losing one, especially on the busy weekends. That’s when customers managed to destroy the displays within 15minutes after I had reorganized them.

Coworkers sometimes asked if I intended to apply for a full-time job at Walmart after graduating from college. I was tempted to laugh and say, “Are you crazy, why would I want to do that?” But I was brought up to be nice, so I explained that I was working toward a degree in English with concentrations in writing and literature, and I hoped to find a job where I could use my writing and editing skills.

Trouble was, I knew that job probably didn’t exist in the area where I currently lived.

And I was right. In order to find any job that was even remotely connected to my major, I had to move. I moved back to the Southwest, to a larger city where I had an employment history and where I knew I could find better opportunities.

After working as a document analyst/quality checker at the place I call The Zoo, I was hired as a staff assistant at a nonprofit organization. I was promoted to an editing position fifteen months later. I worked at that organization for almost eight years before I decided to retire from full-time brick and mortar employment.

In hindsight, working at Walmart wasn’t my best job, but it wasn’t my worst job, either.

Would I ever want to work at Walmart again? Honestly? No, but I was grateful to have that job when I needed it. And I met some very nice people there, both customers and co-workers.





Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Meet My Beach Buddy, Oceanside Trenchcoat Guy

If you go to the beach in Oceanside, California, you probably will see the man who walks along the Strand wearing a long, dark trench coat. Sometimes he splashes in the water; at other times, he sits on the rocks and lets the water splash him. Over the years, he’s become a local celebrity. His picture has appeared in Oceanside publications, including the Osider magazine and the OsideNews.com. Writers have written blog posts about him. And people often take photos or film videos of him and post them on the Internet.
I made his acquaintance on a Facebook group page in March 2015. I commented on a comment he had made about cats. Later, I learned that he was the fellow people call Trench Coat Man.
I’ve always been interested in interesting people, at times incurring my parents’ disapproval. After seeing a few pictures of him that were posted on the group page, I wanted to meet him. I saw him walking either on the beach or on the Strand three times before I got up the courage to approach him and introduce myself. I often tell people I ambushed him.
Over the past year we have become friends. A couple of times a week, we hang out at the beach, where I often use his camera to take photos and film videos of him. He posts both the photos and videos on the Facebook group page and also posts some of the videos on his YouTube channel.
When people ask me about him, I tell them he’s my beach buddy. He has been very kind to me, and I enjoy his company.
He may be considered a bit eccentric, but he’s also a very nice, humble, intelligent man who enjoys talking to people and making new friends. He’s not homeless, as people often assume. He has a home, a 1931 Model A Ford, and three sweet cats.
He has no intention of ending it all, either. But that’s what some individuals, mostly tourists, think he has in mind when they first see him sitting on the rocks or walking into the water. Sometimes concerned tourists talk to him or to the lifeguards instead of making assumptions. Sometimes tourists try to rescue him. Sometimes they just call 9-1-1. The lifeguards and the police officers stationed on the Strand know him well. When asked about him, they usually say “That’s Bruce. He's here every day. He’s okay.”
Oceanside residents like him and are respectful of him. Beachgoers enjoy talking with him on the Strand. People look forward to seeing the photos and videos he posts on the group page and on his YouTube channel, Oceanside Trenchcoat Guy.
He has his reasons for hanging out at the beach wearing a trench coat. One of the reasons is that his doctor told him either to cover up or to stop hanging out at the beach. You can ask him about his other reasons. Google Oceanside Trenchcoat Guy and go to his YouTube channel. Bruce likes meeting new friends, in person and online.






Monday, August 22, 2016

Excerpt From Adventures in Working (a work in progress)


When I was seventeen, I got the bright idea to get a job.
A new discount department store had opened in the city where I went to high school. Although I had never worked before, I figured I could get a job doing something there. I planned to save money, buy a car, and get my ex-boyfriend back.
He liked cars.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned.
For one thing, being a student, I most likely would have had to work evenings. And, oh yeah, I didn’t have a driver’s license. And the buses stopped traveling through our small town after 6 p.m. Even if I had been hired and was able to find transportation to and from work, I never would have been able to save enough money to buy a car.
And my boyfriend wouldn’t be coming back, either. He already was back with the girl he had been dating since what seemed like the beginning of time. She had a job—and a car.
So I forgot about going to work until I was twenty.



Friday, July 29, 2016

Maybe I Shouldn't Have Abandoned This Project


In 1995, I wrote a rough draft of what probably would have become the longest personal essay in the history of the written word. I titled it *Al, the Prowler, and the Siege at Dodge Boulevard*. The project was a memoir recounting “events” that I either, willingly or unwillingly, had participated in or had witnessed between 1961 and 1978. The time frame stretched from my first semester in college to the years when lived in an apartment complex off Speedway Boulevard in Tucson, Arizona.
A lot of memorable and sometimes crazy things happened during those times. There were days when I felt as if my friends and I were characters in some weird sitcom. Today, many of those things would be fodder for blog posts (and probably will be), and a few of them would be fodder for a reality show. Happenings included (but were not limited to) ditzy teenagers, local bad boys, a phantom prowler, a real prowler, crank phone calls, police reports, a couple of subpoenas, and a busted window.
I abandoned the project about a month after I started it.
I had completed the first draft when a man who had once been a good friend of mine died. I put the essay away and didn’t look at it again until a few years ago. Once in a while, I take it out, thinking that maybe I should finish the story.
I woke up about 3 a.m. today and started thinking about why I wanted to write that essay. In 1995, the message I wanted to get across is this: Sometimes things (and people) are not what they seem to be on the surface—or what you dearly or desperately want them to be. Sometimes the people who are supposed to love and protect you are the ones who are trying to hurt you. And sometimes, someone you don’t think cares about you at all really does give a hoot about you in their (the new gender-neutral *their*) own weird way.














Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Not Really Plagiarism


I hate plagiarism. However, I did not hear or read the recent speech by Mrs. Trump or the previous one by Mrs. Obama. So I can’t comment about the current plagiarism accusations and explanations regarding those speeches that are floating around the media.

But the kerfuffle did remind of something. Of course you knew it would.

Way back when I was a participant in an article writing workshop at the University of Arizona, a classmate “borrowed” a few of my ideas from an article I wrote for the class. She included them in an article that she had published in the student paper. Some of the words she used in her article were similar to the words I used in mine.

What a coincidence. A couple of friends who read both articles wondered how she could do that. They urged me to bring the similarities to the professor’s attention.

How could she borrow my ideas from a class assignment? Well, every participant in the workshop had received a copy of every other student’s article to critique. That’s how it’s done in university-level writing workshops.

I was upset at first, then angry, then amused. I mean, isn’t imitation the greatest form of flattery?

In hindsight, the considerate thing for her to do would have been to tell me she liked some of my ideas and planned to include them in her news feature. She really didn’t have to ask if she could use them. Ideas are up for grabs.

I let it go and didn’t bring the similarities to the professor’s attention. After all, it wasn’t as if she had published my entire article word for word under her byline. If that had happened, I would have gone to the professor—and to the director of the creative writing program.

Fast forward ten years.

I moved across the country, to an economically depressed area. I found a job at a big box store that was about to celebrate its grand opening. In order to drum up enthusiasm for the event, the store held a poetry contest for its employees.

I wrote a parody of the Night Before Christmas and won first prize. After I won, I learned that another employee had parodied the same poem. Although I didn’t know that until after I won the contest, I felt bad about it. If I had known the man wrote his poem based on that work, I would have chosen another theme for my poem.

I apologized to him saying, “If I had realized you did that, I would have written something else.”

He said, “No apologies are necessary. You deserved to win.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bus Lines: Adventures in Riding Public Transportation



I started using public transportation in the Mid-Jurassic Period. Riding a bus in a rural county was generally boring, but necessary, when I was a teenager without a driver’s license.
Now I take notes.
Buses seem to be getting more crowded, not necessarily with passengers, but definitely with their paraphernalia. I suspect that buses eventually will have to be redesigned to accommodate the many riders who board while wrestling with their walkers, personal shopping carts, and rolling suitcases the size of Montana. Baby carriages also fit this category, although they sometimes don’t fit very well on buses. Too often, passengers are offended when drivers ask them to fold their walkers, personal carts, or carriages or tell them to move their rolling suitcases to a safer spot.
Riding the bus every day can get a little expensive. The lack of cash or a bus pass often encourages people to be creative. At least a couple of times a week, I see people trying their best to convince the bus driver that they should be allowed to ride without paying. Some prospective passengers claim they forgot their bus passes. Others confess that they have no money, but tell drivers they are desperate to get somewhere because of a really, really important appointment, a job interview, or a family emergency. Then there are the passengers who climb on the bus, wave a bill around, and ask, “Does anyone have change for a twenty?” Of course, no one ever does.
Usually, the nicer bus drivers allow the non-payers to ride, but tell them not to do it again. Of course, some of them probably do.
Sometimes riding public transportation seems like a bizarre form of entertainment.
Several years ago, a woman sitting behind me announced to her seatmate, “My sister killed her husband. She shot him six times.” Well, that woke up everyone. The woman went on to elaborate on the details, which, mercifully, I’ve forgotten.
Oddly enough, on the same bus route a couple of days later, I heard a woman say, “My sister murdered her husband.” The same woman had to be telling the story again. There couldn’t be two of them, could there?
During another bus trip, I tried my best not to listen as a woman sitting in front of me gossiped on her cell phone. She neglected to use her “library voice” when she told her friend, “You’ll never guess who I slept with last night.” Apparently, he or she guessed wrong. All heads swiveled in the woman’s direction as she enlightened the friend. “No, not him. The other one.”
When she looked up, the woman realized she had shared that news with a busload of people. “Well, I guess I said that too loud.”
“Yes, you did,” the fellow sitting across from her said.
Last week, a twenty-something woman with disheveled gray and purple shoulder length hair boarded an Escondido bus at 8 a.m. She wore a low cut, purple micro-mini dress. A spaghetti strap hung off her left shoulder, and a black net stocking threatened to head south on her left leg. The black lace garter on her right leg kept that stocking from slipping.
Not wanting to be judgmental, I gave the young woman the benefit of the doubt. She carried a notebook, so I thought she might have worked all night as a hostess at a 24 hour restaurant. And now she was heading to an early morning class at the local community college.
Sometimes the things you see on the bus, or off the bus in this case, are sort of shocking and sad.
Toward the end of a long, boring ride, I was on automatic pilot when the bus stopped a block north of the County Complex campus. A few seconds later, I noticed passengers gawking out the window. They seemed captivated by something happening near the bus bench. The bus driver muttered to herself and grabbed her cell phone.
I looked, blinked, looked again, gasped, and turned away.
A woman was dancing around on the sidewalk, shedding her clothes from the waist down. I think the two fellows sitting on the bus bench were trying not to look because they were staring at the bus instead of ogling the woman. A young mother pushing her toddler in a stroller approached the area. She hesitated and then kept her eyes on the street as she raced past the stripper.
I felt embarrassed for the woman. I asked the bus driver to call the police, but she ignored me. Maybe she had called it in already. I don’t know how the performance ended. The two fellows boarded the bus, and the driver went on her way.
Maybe people disrobe in public every day in places like Los Angeles and New York City. I had never seen anything like that anywhere before, and I don’t ever want to see anything like it again.
And I hope the stripper eventually got some help. I would guess that she really needed it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I Never Could Do Anything Wrong Right


[This essay originally was published on the late, but unlamented, Themestream site in July 2000.]

I can't do anything wrong right. I discovered this glitch in my character at the age of fifteen, on the day that I decided to skip my afternoon classes.

I should have spent the previous evening reviewing the plot and structure of Silas Marner. Instead, I stayed up way past midnight reading Murder on the Orient Express. I paid for it the next day.

By 10 a.m., I almost had dozed off in a couple of classes. And I knew what was going to happen that afternoon. I was going to flunk the literature test. I already had a C- average in the class, and report cards were due to come out in a couple of weeks. My parents would have a fit if I flunked English, and I wouldn't be too thrilled about it either. At that point in my high school career, it was my best subject.

By noon, I wished I had stayed home, like my best friend did. According to her sister, Kate had developed a mysterious allergy overnight. She didn't like Agatha Christie, and she wasn't in the same English class. I figured she was allergic to history class. I knew she had a report due that day.

Instead of going to lunch, I rooted around in my purse, dug up a dime, and called Kate. "I can't afford to get another bad mark," I told her. "I've got to get out of here, but I can't go home until school gets out."

"My dad won't be home for lunch," Kate said. "He has a meeting or something. Take the bus up here," she suggested between sneezes. "If you hang around downtown, you'll get caught."

I got on the bus and checked out the other passengers; none of them looked familiar. I decided that skipping school was easy. I changed my mind a couple of stops down the road when my forty-something cousin climbed aboard. The smile she flashed at the bus driver turned into a frown when she noticed me.
"Not feeling well?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said, staring at the bald spot on the back of the bus driver's head. "I feel sort of queasy. I think I'm allergic to shepherd’s pie or something."

My cousin joined a woman sitting a few seats behind me. I could hear them chattering away, and although I really couldn't catch what they were saying, I thought I heard my name mentioned a couple of times. However, my cousin minded her own business when I got off the bus more than a mile down the road from my house.

I hiked up to Kate’s house and walked in without ringing the doorbell. I figured she probably wouldn't hear me anyway, not with the radio blasting away. Kate sat hunched over the kitchen table. She was wearing red pajamas that coordinated nicely with her nose. Her hair stuck out like quills on a porcupine.

"You've got to help me," she said, pawing through the books, papers, and tissue boxes strewn all over the table. "I think I lost my notes, and this report was due today. Its supposed to be about someone named Maria Theresa who was the queen of some place I can't remember. She had a famous kid, but I can't remember who that was either."

"Austria," I said. "She was Marie Antoinette's mother. I think she diffused some sort of military unrest by reviewing her troops with a baby in her ar. . ."

"Forget that," Kate snapped, handing me a pencil and a notebook. "I need help with the paper today; save the test review for next week."

I chose the thinnest book from Kate's pile and settled down at dining room table. Twenty minutes later, I had worked up a rough outline that she could use in writing a bare-bones report. "At least Mom was smarter than her daughter," I shouted over the sound of the Everly brothers. "She kept her head. She never said to her people. . ."

"What are you doing here!" a voice boomed behind me.

Uh, I got out of school early." I figured that was the truth, sort of, but I could feel my face burning. "I just stopped by to see if Kate needed any help with her homework."

Kate's dad didn't hang around, he grabbed some papers he needed for a meeting and left, saying he was already late. On his way out, he turned down the radio and said, "Don't stay long. Kate has to rest."

As soon as he drove away, Kate turned up the radio. "I can't rest until I get this stupid thing done," she wailed, bouncing a tissue box across the table. She stuck a pencil in her mouth and chomped down on it like a snapping turtle.

"Don't do that, "I said, "You'll ruin your OHMYGOSH! I FORGOT!"Kate yanked the pencil out of her mouth and turned down the radio. "Forgot what?"

"I have a dentist appointment after school."

"So skip it. You skipped school."

"But I can't skip this," I told her. My dentist had a tight schedule, a short temper, and a large vocabulary of four-letter words. If I skipped the appointment, he probably would call the house and cuss out my mother.

Back in town, I hopped off the bus and landed in front of my history teacher. Oops! I had skipped her class too. I thought she would holler at me, but she just smiled and kept walking.

I raced up the steps to the dentist's office and checked in with the receptionist. As I searched  for a magazine that wasn't older than the dentist, I glanced into the hallway and saw a familiar face pop up from the stairwell. It was my English teacher.

I ducked behind the Saturday Evening Post, but that didn't fool her. Maybe it was because I was holding the magazine upside down. "Where were you this afternoon?" she asked, glaring at me. I stared at the grease stain on the rug and mumbled something about not feeling well. "Where were you?" she repeated.

That's when the dentist walked into the room, figured out what had happened, and offered his opinion on the situation, “Damned kids today have no sense of responsibility.”

I guess Kate was contagious because a few hours later, I didn’t feel so good. I didn’t go to school on Friday. On Monday, I got called to the principal’s office. Someone had ratted me out. I got two days detention and the principal, who had been a classmate of my mother’s, called my mother. I was grounded for a week.

I never skipped another class. Well, not until I went to college. [Read I Torpedoed My Academic Career, posted on this site on August 20, 2015.]                   ]